Ambiguous Difference: Ethical Concern in Byron's "Manfred"

Author's Department

English & Comparative Literature Department

Document Type

Research Article

Publication Title

New Literary History

Publication Date





The paper offers a reading of Manfred that demonstrates how the Byronic sublime challenges the aesthetic frame within which Romantic literature is generally conceived. The paper traces the movement from symbolic presentation to an extreme vision of sublime experience in offering a new reading of Byron’s verse drama. The first part of the paper is concerned with how Manfred enacts an inner conflict underlying the emergence of the sublime in a manner that is irreducible to Kantian aesthetics. The second part of the paper deals with the issue of Manfred’s unstable nature in comparative and autobiographical terms. A brief examination of key passages in Byron’s ‘Alpine Journal’ suggests a reading of the verse drama that clarifies the author’s opposition to a poetics of memory. The third part of the paper focuses on how the Byronic hero cannot be assimilated to well-known models of rational autonomy. The conclusion argues nonetheless that the Byronic sublime provides a paradoxical basis for appreciating the ethical concerns of romantic poetry.

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